Rex E. Lee

Last updated
Rex Lee
Rex Lee-large.jpg
President of Brigham Young University
In office
July 1, 1989 December 31, 1995
Preceded by Jeffrey R. Holland
Succeeded by Merrill J. Bateman
37th Solicitor General of the United States
In office
August 1981 June 1, 1985
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Wade H. McCree
Succeeded by Charles Fried
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division
In office
President Gerald Ford
Preceded by Carla Anderson Hills
Succeeded by Barbara A. Babcock
Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School
In office
October 1971 August 1981
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded by Carl S. Hawkins
Personal details
Rex Edwin Lee

(1935-02-27)February 27, 1935
St. Johns, Arizona, U.S.
DiedMarch 11, 1996(1996-03-11) (aged 61)
Provo, Utah, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s)Janet Griffin
Children7 (including Mike and Thomas)
Education Brigham Young University (BA)
University of Chicago (JD)

Rex Edwin Lee (February 27, 1935 – March 11, 1996) was an American lawyer, law clerk for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White, and the United States Solicitor General during the Reagan administration. He was responsible for bringing the Solicitor General in the center of policymaking. He argued 59 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Lee was an alumnus and the tenth president of Brigham Young University (BYU). Lee was also the founding Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU.

Law clerk person who provides assistance to a judge in researching issues before the court and in writing opinions

A law clerk or a judicial clerk is an individual—generally an attorney—who provides direct assistance and counsel to a judge in making legal determinations and in writing opinions by researching issues before the court. Judicial clerks often play significant roles in the formation of case law through their influence upon judges' decisions. Judicial clerks should not be confused with legal clerks, court clerks, or courtroom deputies who only provide secretarial and administrative support to attorneys and/or judges.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions.

Justice Concept of moral fairness and administration of the law

Justice, in its broadest context, includes both the attainment of that which is just and the philosophical discussion of that which is just. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral correctness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of social justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and, procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law.


Background and education

Lee was born in St. Johns, Arizona on February 27, 1935. His parents were Mabel (née Whiting) and Rex E. Lee. [1] [2] According to an obituary in American Rifleman , Lee's father was shot and killed during a hunting trip in November 1934. [3] His mother later married Wilford Shumway. [4] Lee served a mission for the LDS Church in the Mexican Mission, serving as second counselor to the mission president. [2] He first met his future wife, Janet Griffin (whose father was the Treasury Attaché of the US Embassy in Mexico City), while he was in Mexico. When Lee returned from his mission and enrolled at BYU, he again became acquainted with Janet and they married on July 7, 1958 in Arizona. [5] :41-42 [2] Lee and Griffin had seven children. [1]

Arizona state of the United States of America

Arizona is a state in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the sixth largest and the 14th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is Phoenix. Arizona shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico; its other neighboring states are Nevada and California to the west and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the south and southwest.

<i>American Rifleman</i>

American Rifleman is a United States-based monthly shooting and firearms interest publication, owned by the National Rifle Association (NRA). It is the 33rd most-widely distributed consumer magazine and the NRA's primary magazine. The magazine has its headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia.

A mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a geographical administrative area to which church missionaries are assigned. Almost all areas of the world are within the boundaries of an LDS Church mission, whether or not any of the church's missionaries live or proselytize in the area. As of July 2018, there were 407 missions of the LDS Church. On January 2, 2019, the LDS Church announced changes that will close 12 missions through boundary realignments and open up 4 new ones, effective July 1, 2019. When these changes take place, there will be 399 missions of the church.

During his undergraduate years at BYU, Lee was elected student-body president. [6] After completing his undergraduate work at BYU, in 1963 Lee graduated from the University of Chicago Law School with a Doctor of Juridical Science. [7] After graduating as the valedictorian of his class, Lee served as a seat six law clerk for Byron White, an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. [8]

University of Chicago Law School law school

The University of Chicago Law School is a professional graduate school of the University of Chicago. It employs more than 200 full-time and part-time faculty and hosts more than 600 students in its Juris Doctor program, while also offering the Master of Laws, Master of Studies in Law and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees in law. It is consistently ranked among the top law schools in the world, and has produced many distinguished alumni in the judiciary, academia, government, politics and business.

Doctor of Juridical Science, Doctor of the Science of Law, Scientiae Juridicae Doctor or Juridicae Scientiae Doctor, abbreviated S.J.D. or J.S.D., respectively, is a research doctorate in law equivalent to the more commonly awarded research doctorate, the Ph.D. It is offered primarily in the United States, and in Canada and Australia. As a research doctorate, it follows professional training in law and the first graduate degree in law. It is primarily aimed at educating professors, legal scientists, and other scholars in law.

Byron White Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, American football player

Byron Raymond "Whizzer" White was an American lawyer and professional American football player who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1962 to 1993. Born and raised in Colorado, he played college football, basketball, and baseball for the University of Colorado, finishing as the runner up for the Heisman Trophy in 1937. He was selected in the first round of the 1938 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and led the National Football League in rushing yards in his rookie season. White was admitted to Yale Law School in 1939 and played for the Detroit Lions in the 1940 and 1941 seasons. During World War II, he served as an intelligence officer with the United States Navy in the Pacific. After the war, he graduated from Yale and clerked for Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson.

Following his clerkship at the U.S. Supreme Court, Lee returned to Arizona and became a partner in the Phoenix law firm of Jennings, Strouss & Salmon. [9] Only four years after graduating from law school, Lee argued his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the fact that he had not yet led any depositions in a lower civil court. [10] :4

In 1972, Lee left his public legal career to become the founding dean of Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School and is considered personally responsible for recruiting many members of its charter class. [11] [12]

Brigham Young University private research university located in Provo, Utah, United States

Brigham Young University is a private, non-profit research university in Provo, Utah, United States owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and run under the auspices of its Church Educational System. The university is classified among "Doctoral Universities: High Research Activity" with "more selective, lower transfer-in" admissions. The university's primary emphasis is on undergraduate education in 179 majors, but it also has 62 master's and 26 doctoral degree programs. The university also administers two satellite campuses, one in Jerusalem and one in Salt Lake City, while its parent organization, the Church Educational System (CES), sponsors sister schools in Hawaii and Idaho.

J. Reuben Clark Law School Law school at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

The J. Reuben Clark Law School is a professional school for the study of law in the western United States, located at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. Founded 46 years ago in 1973, the school is named after J. Reuben Clark, a former U.S. Ambassador, Undersecretary of State, and general authority of the institution's sponsoring organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Supreme Court advocate and scholar

Lee entered public service, first at the invitation of Attorney General Edward H. Levi as an Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division in the United States Department of Justice from 1975–76. [13] [14] In 1980, Lee wrote A Lawyer Looks at the Equal Rights Amendment where he attempted to legally defend the LDS Church's opposition of Equal Rights Amendment as well as its anti-homosexual viewpoints. [15] :51

Edward H. Levi Jewish American politician

Edward Hirsch Levi was an American law professor, academic leader, scholar, and statesman. He served as president of the University of Chicago from 1968 to 1975, and then as United States Attorney General in the Ford Administration. Levi is regularly cited as the "model of a modern attorney general", the "greatest lawyer of his time", and is credited with restoring order after Watergate. He is considered, along with Yale's Whitney Griswold, the greatest of postwar American university presidents.

United States Assistant Attorney General Government official rank

Many of the divisions and offices of the United States Department of Justice are headed by an Assistant Attorney General.

The United States Department of Justice Civil Division represents the United States, its departments and agencies, members of Congress, cabinet officers, and other federal employees. Its litigation reflects the diversity of government activities, involving, for example, the defense of challenges to Presidential actions; national security issues; benefit programs; energy policies; commercial issues such as contract disputes, banking insurance, patents, fraud, and debt collection; all manner of accident and liability claims; enforcement of immigration laws; and civil and criminal violations of consumer protection laws. Each year, Division attorneys handle thousands of cases that collectively involve billions of dollars in claims and recoveries. The Division confronts significant policy issues, which often rise to constitutional dimensions, in defending and enforcing various Federal programs and actions. The Civil Division is currently led by Jody Hunt, who was confirmed to the position by the United States Senate in August 2018.

He served as Solicitor General of the United States from 1981-85 under President of the United States Ronald Reagan. [4] As Solicitor General, Lee argued cases before the Supreme Court. [16] During his time as Solicitor General, Lee won 23 of the 30 cases he argued during Ronald Reagan's first presidential term. [17] Before he died, he spent time preparing to argue his sixtieth case before the Supreme Court despite being confined to a hospital bed. [11] [17] Associate Justice White said that Lee "was the epitome of integrity." [17] At one point, while being criticized for taking somewhat unpopular stances that might have been at odds with the administration under which he served, Lee responded: "I'm the solicitor general, not the pamphleteer general." [7] [17]

Lee relished the opportunity to argue before the Supreme Court. His son, Mike Lee, noted that Lee was very energetic and ethusiatic about arguing cases. [18] In June 1985, Lee resigned as Solicitor General among criticism that he was not conservative enough. [19] [20] In 1986, after his resignation from the Solicitor General's office, Lee was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. [21] Lee mangaed to recover after about a year of cancer treatment and therapy and was named BYU's tenth president. [22] [23] According to some accounts, when Lee was asked to assume the position as university president, he accepted on the condition that he would still be able to argue cases before the Supreme Court in his spare time. He argued nine before his death. [17]

BYU presidency

As president of BYU, Lee oversaw the creation of clear standards on employment requirements and academic freedom, especially in terms of religious education. Lee believed that religious perspectives in the classroom promote academic freedom rather than hinder it. [15] :4,15 He also oversaw the streamlining of graduation requirements to aid students in graduating more quickly. Specifically, he limited major requirements to 60 credit hours, encouraging graduation within four years or eight semesters. [24] Furthermore, he reinstated weekly university devotionals. [25] His administration was responsible for growing the size of the campus and prestige of the university. [23] In 1993, Lee decided BYU would offer lower tuition for summer semester to increase enrollment. [26] While president, Lee instituted a rule that added regular church attendance as a requirement for attending BYU (though regular church attendance was not defined), stating that the rule would not be used to force church attendance but those that those best fitted to BYU's environment would, "cheerfully participate in church activity." [15] :156

In 1993 to 1994, controversy arose when two professors were terminated at BYU. Arguments arose on the nature of the firings with some claiming that they were fired due to their outspoken beliefs (one of which was supportive of the Pro-choice movement) that were not in line with the beliefs of the LDS Church, while administrators claimed it was strictly due to academic performance. [15] :218-229 These allegations sparked accusations of an "anti-feminist" BYU which Lee denied, affirming that feminists were welcome on BYU campus. [15] :314 Lee also introduced "question and answer" sessions for faculty, students, and staff as well as additions to the physical plant of the university. Furthermore, he emphasized university devotional attendance and encouraged school spirit. [27] In 1994, Lee created a committee to raise $250 million for the "Lighting the Way Capital Campaign" for the benefit of BYU and BYU-Hawaii to reach accreditation. The campaign was completed in December 1999, having earned over $400 million. [28] [29]

Before Lee's tenure as university president was over, he struggled with lymphoma and peripheral neuropathy. [30] He served as president university from July 1, 1989 to December 31, 1995. He died at age 61, less than three months after resigning as president of BYU. [4] During Lee's funeral, BYU classes were canceled for two hours to allow students to attend the funeral. [31]


During his career, Lee argued 59 cases before the Supreme Court. [30] Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito served as an assistant to Solicitor General Lee from 1981 to 1985, where Alito argued 12 cases before the Court. [18] According to scholar Rebecca Mae Salokar, Rex E. Lee brought the position of Solicitor General into the center of policymaking in the United States. [19] In 1998, the J. Reuben Clark Law School created the Rex E. Lee Chair, a position created to honor Lee. [32] [33]

Lee won one of the first Distinguished Utahn of the Year Award. [34] Lee was an avid runner throughout his life (he was nominated to be Solicitor General two days after completing the Boston Marathon), [7] and an annual race is held in his honor at BYU to raise proceeds for cancer research. [35]


Like his father, Thomas Rex Lee would later teach at the Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School, before resigning to accept an appointment as an Associate Justice of the Utah Supreme Court. [18] Another son, Mike Lee, graduated from BYU as an undergrad and a law student, before clerking for Judge Dee Benson at the United States District Court, District of Utah, and for Justice Alito, once while he was still judging on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and once on the U.S. Supreme Court. [18] In 2011, Mike became a United States Senator from Utah. [36] [37] Lee was a first cousin of politicians Mo Udall and Stewart Udall. [38]


See also

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  1. 1 2 "Death: Rex Edwin Lee". Deseret News. Deseret News Publishing Company. March 13, 1996. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  2. 1 2 3 "Rex E. Lee New BYU President". Ensign. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. July 1989. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
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  5. Allred, Diana Lee; Ekeroth, Jan Nelson (1997). "Janet Griffin Lee". In Jensen, Marian Wilkinson (ed.). Women of Commitment: Elect Ladies of Brigham Young University. Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers. ISBN   978-0882906102.
  6. Hill, Greg. Funeral Spealers Laud Life of Rex Lee, Church News , March 23, 1996, retrieved 2012-05-08
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  38. Ting, Dennis (March 3, 2014). "Politics: The family business". CNN. Cable News Network. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
Academic offices
New office Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School
Succeeded by
Carl S. Hawkins
Preceded by
Jeffrey R. Holland
President of Brigham Young University
Succeeded by
Merrill J. Bateman
Legal offices
Preceded by
Wade H. McCree
Solicitor General of the United States
Succeeded by
Charles Fried